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Wonderland: The ABC of this year’s travels

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Cross-posted from - you can comment there. I found a fun questionnaire on this blog and decided to use it to ‘close’ 2011 on Wonderland. This year was exceptionally full of travelling, for which I feel grateful. I went somewhere almost every month. I visited 3 continents, 12 countries (6 of them – for the first time) and 21 cities.

True, I didn’t blog on Wonderland much, as there were so many things to do and so much to share on my Lithuanian blog. The loss of the possibility to interact with my readers on Cafe Babel blogs was also very discouraging, and this is why I started cross-posting. Anyway, let’s hope the next year will be equally interesting and less busy.

> Age you went on your first international trip

Not exactly about this year, but OK, I think 18. I went to Riga for a school competition. But to add some relevance, I was surprised to count and see that the number of countries I visited by now already exceeds my age.

> Best (foreign) beer you’ve had and where

Of course in Belgium! It was great that this year I could go there four times, of which two were longer than a couple of days. I spend 2.5 weeks in Brussels in January-February and 5 days in October. There are many good beers there, but even better is the company to enjoy the beers with.

Cuisine (favorite) – I add: of this year

South Spain was this year’s culinary paradise. Very fresh products, great olive oil, amazing fish dishes, creative tapas, good coffee – highly recommend :) I tried boquerones, fish that is typical for Málaga, a huge potato with stuff inside, octopus in Granada, legendary jamón serrano and many other things. I was particularly amazed at the cute names that residents of Málaga give to different coffee and milk ratios: shadow, middle and cloud. Thank you José for a very detailed list of things to eat in Málaga and Granada! :)

Then again, there were many things I liked in South Korea too. This was where I tried pickled bugs, a barely dead octopus and pigs’ hearts. Seafood in Busan was amazing. Two things I miss are spicy rice cake (tteokbokki) and fish cake. I hope my friend won’t mind that I borrowed her picture.

Photo by Ying Hui

I spent a month in Korea and it took about the same time to lose the extra weight. The food there is interesting and cheap, but the main problem with it is many additives and unusual (for me) mixes. I might forget the few words I learned in Korean, but I’ll always remember “No chili paste, please” and “I’m (not) hungry”.

Destinations: favorite, least favorite and why

I was happy to have the opportunity to go to one of my favourite cities – Berlin – twice. First time in March, second time in August. Berlin is the place where I would like to live one day. It’s big, but cheap, relatively safe, with a fun and relaxed atmosphere. I like that people allow themselves to remain young for a long time – it’s something I miss in Lithuania. Something I did in Berlin in August was a little pilgrimage – visiting the grave of Herbert Marcuse, one of the first left-wing authors I read. Having exposure to this tradition of philosophy at my Erasmus university in Sweden made me reconsider many things and shaped my values into what they are now.

It seems there are many ‘pilgrims’ like me, judging from the crowded candles and stones (following both Christian and Jewish traditions). ‘Weitermachen’ (continue!) is the best word to write on a prominent person’s grave.

The least favourite place I visited this year was obviously Sharm el-Sheikh. Awfully boring, segregated and consumerist. Local men were jumping at every tourist and shouting “Hi, where are you from?” and taking pictures of women in swimsuits with their mobile phones. The only good thing about it was the possibility to book a night tour to Mount Sinai.

If you find yourself there, climb the mountain, take a swim once, and run away.

Event you experienced abroad that made you say “wow”

Positively ‘wow’? I didn’t encounter many events unfortunately, but I guess something I admired was the b-boy championship in Seoul.

The whole experience of being in Egypt after the revolution was amazing – I wouldn’t have the same feelings now. People were inspired and confident that they can take destiny in their hands and achieve something important.

Favorite mode of transportation

Trains wherever I could take them (Cairo-Alexandria, Amsterdam-Brussels, Berlin-Bremen, etc.). This year I flew more than throughout my life before, which is definitely nothing to be proud of. An 11-hour bus ride Cairo-Luxor was the most (negatively) unforgettable experience, with lame local movies half the night (they are something between Bollywood and Latin American soap operas and seem to always feature a woman being strangled).

Greatest feeling while traveling

Feeling a part of local life with CouchSurfing. This way I met amazing people in Brussels, Cairo, Luxor, Berlin and Granada.

Hottest place you’ve traveled to

Luxor. 42. Ouch.

Incredible service you’ve experienced and where

Finding two little candies in a hotel room in Prague.

Journey that took the longest

Predictably, Vilnius-Paris-Seoul and Seoul-Amsterdam-Vilnius. All the flights were very inconvenient and expensive, and in the end I decided that 15 hours to spend in a city of transfer is better than 7 hours. In Paris, I met two friends (it was great fun to have early French breakfast before catching a train to the airport). But on the way back, there was nobody I knew to meet me in Amsterdam. Which appeared to be not a problem at all. Still in Seoul, I overheard some people speaking Lithuanian on an escalator and said hello. We quickly found out we were taking exactly the same flights. I asked them, four exchange students returning home, how they were planning to spend the night. They said they were going to party. They kindly allowed me to join. We sat in a park, in a pub, at Burger King, etc. sharing stories about Korea. But it was cold and drizzling, so spending a night out was not much fun. We ended up sleeping on the floor at their friend’s place.

Keepsake from your travels

Something I really like is a ring shaped like eyeglasses from Seoul.

Let-down sight: why and where

Berghain club in Berlin. A long queue and grumpy bouncers who wouldn’t explain their face control policy.

Prague’s old town during the weekend. I’ve told you why.

Moment where you fell in love with travel

To rephrase the question to make it more relevant for this year, what was the moment when I, with all my travel fatigue, said to myself: “In the end, I do love travelling”? Maybe sightseeing in Granada, looking at this amazingly exotic place from a hilltop.

Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in

Maldron hotel in Dublin. A hotel room with tea making facilities will receive my compliments by definition. But this one also had an iron, and a bath tub instead of a shower.

Obsession: what are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling?

Repeating patterns. Food. Details.

Passport stamps: how many and from where?

Egypt and South Korea. I was wondering whether the border guards in Egypt will ask any questions about my Israeli stamp, but they couldn’t care less.

Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where

Old town of Prague on a Friday night.

Recommended sight, event or experience

Cambodian family restaurant in Paris. Private collection of Picasso and Klee in Berlin (take the audio guide – you won’t regret it). Talking to people in post-revolution Cairo. Couchsurfing in a village near Luxor. Climbing Mount Sinai at night and seeing the sunrise. Namsan tower. Break dance shows in Korea. Walking in random streets of Berlin late at night. Walk in the woods near Potsdam. Visiting the Peacock island. Blogging at Cafe Kafka in Brussels. Seaside in Málaga. Trying different ‘shades’ of coffee. Málaga’s Contemporary Art Museum and its gift shop. Looking at Granada from a hilltop. Alhambra. Flamenco dance, however touristy. Meeting/discussion/dinner with Spanish eco/human rights activists. Speaking Japanese to a Prague local. ‘Pilgrimage’ to the grave of Franz Kafka just to see how creatively his fans honour him:

Home party in Prague. Listening to live music in a bar in Dublin. Various little things that are difficult to repeat.

Splurge: something you have no problem forking over money for while traveling

Gifts. Especially in Egypt. Staff at small shops compete who will be the most convincing in proving that their (probably made in China) figurines are made of real alabaster. Or show you the difference of fake and real papyrus. Whatever. Just enjoy the game.

Touristy thing you’ve done

Took a ring carousel in Paris. Taking these ‘I’m holding a pyramid!’ photos in Giza. Went shopping in Myeongdong. Sat in an all-tourist pub at Temple Bar in Dublin. Seeing a flamenco show in Granada, marveling at the dancer’s concentration when all the tourists were flashing their cameras right in her face, and a Russian couple were discussing the bar and the woman aloud, thinking that nobody understands.

Unforgettable travel memory

Visiting the chocolate museum in Köln with A. Crazy bus ride to Luxor, with uncomfortable seats, loud movies after evening and morning prayer, and being dropped off in the middle of a field, as the driver said, “Luxor, next station – Aswan”. Sunrise on Mt. Sinai, with our crazy tour guide who was jumping from rock to rock. Entering a mosque with H.

Visas: how many and for where?

To Egypt – very easy, you get it at the border.

Wine: best glass of wine while traveling and where?

I guess somewhere in South Spain… I wasn’t drinking wine much.

eXcellent view and from where?

River Nile from a boat at sunset in Luxor.

Zealous sports fans and where?

At the train station, on the way from Berlin to Bremen.

I wouldn’t say that, as the new year approaches, I’d wish myself to travel as much next year. I just hope I’ll find a nice place to spend a longer time somewhere in the world.